Cost overruns on Stockton’s new City Hall are entering boondoggle territory, all the more vexing because city leaders made the same costly mistake before.

Of course, the city has also suffered pandemic inflation. But that doesn’t fully explain how buying and renovating the Waterfront Towers at 501 and 509 W. Weber Ave. for around $25 million tripled to $74.5 million.

“There was not appropriate analysis done about what needed to be done to the building to move into it,” said city spokesperson Connie Cochran. “That now has been done.”

That admission – that city leaders bought a pig in a poke and only looked at it afterwards – runs directly counter to the city’s narrative of post-bankruptcy fiscal prudence.

Cost overruns on Stockton’s new City Hall are a costly exception to Stockton’s hard-earned fiscal smarts. (MICHAEL FITZGERALD/CONTRIBUTOR)

To be fair, the city has been fiscally prudent, in most areas. Enough so that the $898.7 million budget for fiscal year 2022-23 allows Stockton to emerge blinking and pale from the bunker of austerity and sink some money into improving the city and its workforce.

But something about City Hall buildings seems to jam leaders’ brain waves. No “appropriate analysis” on a $25 million purchase? And why does this gaffe trigger déjà vu?

A little history.

First, previous city leaders failed to maintain Stockton’s historic 1926 City Hall, preferring instead to enrich themselves with the wildly excessive wages and benefits that contributed to the city’s bankruptcy.

Then, when the building fell to smash and became too costly to repair, the city in 2007 paid $35 million for the eight-story bank building at 400 E. Main Street.

The city invested millions more in outfitting the building — and lost the building to foreclosure in bankruptcy.

An artists rendition of the council chambers at the new Stockton City Hall. (COURTESY OF THE CITY OF STOCKTON)

In bankruptcy court, the city cut a lease deal with the owner, paying millions more in rent in exchange for debt reduction elsewhere. But the city never did move all its workforce in because belatedly they realized needed repairs were too costly.

There was no appropriate analysis done.

Where are the appropriate analysis guys in this city? Has anybody checked in on them lately?

The shortcomings they missed this time, according to a (belated) city staff analysis are things including …

“ … but not limited to, new and renovated lighting systems, fire alarm system, power systems, data and telecommunication systems, fire sprinkler and fire suppression systems, HVAC mechanical systems, plumbing systems, interior metal wall framing, gypsum board, doors and windows, security systems, audio visual system, interior finishes, accessories, and signage, fireproofing, modernization of the existing elevators, and minor frontage modifications adjacent to the site …”

Overlooking “minor frontage modifications” is one thing; overlooking the fire system, H/VAC, plumbing and other essential systems is … negligence.

The two city execs (ir)responsible are City Manager Kurt Wilson and Economic Development Director Micah Runner, said city spokeswoman Connie Cochran. Neither work for the city anymore.

The Stockton Arena is getting a $2.5 million upgrade to its scoreboard and sound system. (MICHAEL FITZGERALD/CONTRIBUTOR)

It’s a fact that everyone is being gob-smacked by pandemic inflation. I haven’t seen a city estimate on its impact to the cost of the Waterfront Towers, but it is undoubtedly substantial. 

And, if you look at other city initiatives on the waterfront, you find good news.

  • The city last Friday broke ground on a 11,000 square-foot, three-story “navigation center” near the waterfront with beds and services to reduce homelessness locally and countywide.
  • The city is negotiating with a developer to build 575 housing units, park and “civic space,” as well as retail on 8.78 acres of city land west of the Waterfront Towers. If the deal closes, the waterfront goes from afterthought to nucleus.
  • The city is spending $2.5 million to bring the arena’s scoreboard and sound system into the 21st century. This, coupled with the Stockton Heat’s departure, which frees up many dates, means the arena should be able to book more sports events, family shows, and concerts.

How unfortunate that runaway city hall costs undermine the proud FY 2022-23 budget message from City Manager Harry Black: “The lessons learned from the not-so-distant past continue to underpin our financial planning and decision-making.”

With one glaring exception.

Michael Fitzgerald’s column runs on Wednesdays. Phone (209) 687-9585. On Twitter and Instagram as Stocktonopolis. Email: michaelf@stocktonia.org.

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15 Comments

  1. Thanks Michael for this expensive lesson in subsequent management blunders. From neglecting and mismanaging our cultural heritage. to a hit-and-miss at 400 E Main. to the current cost overrun, one has to wonder about the minimum qualifications for appointed officials and the performance metrics for said appointed officials.

    Negligence and lack of department coordination is telling.

    Keep the insights coming !

  2. Wow, wow, wow!
    Don’t let up Michael! We need journalists like yourself to keep our city elected officials honest! Stockton has been plagued by many crooks in government and someone must keep watch!! Thanks again!

  3. I love the honest reporting, even though it makes me angry that some of our elected and or appointed officials are incompetent. Keep up the good work Michael Fitzgerald, great to read your columns again!

  4. Is any of that budget being used to combat crime? We need more police and none want to work for Stockton when they get paid more in surrounding cities. Offer more in salaries so we can recruit more much needed officers.

  5. I agree with Michael Bond that I appreciate the accurate reporting and digging in for the REAL story. Now how do we get action to correct the situation? My tax dollars are getting tired of being stepped on….

  6. Sounds like the analysis was sketchy and rushed. Too bad the decision makers arent around to face the consequences.

  7. This is the kind of journalism we have been waiting for.. thanks for getting back into the game

  8. Wait. Isn’t Jane Butterfield (see above) among those who sold the twin towers to the city? Glad to have Mike back in the saddle holding the city’s feet to the fire. (Sorry for the mixed metaphor.) This sort of reporting is one among the many things lacking in the Record. One other new bright spot along our neglected and under appreciated waterfront: the folks restoring the SS Lucid up by Dad’s Point have purchased the empty lot on the south shore as a location for their maritime museum & the Lucid. Kick some money down their way, y’all.

  9. How does our newest City Manager play into this? What are his thoughts on this and how the city will come up with the funds to address these issues? It seems if we were to follow the money, we may find common people benefiting from these boondoggles. Who are they? Let’s s name them. Let’s not only name the city officials. Name the seller, the buyer, the construction company, the company that did the cost analysis and who owned those companies. Would we find people who have benefitted from other outrageous spending in the past?

  10. I hope that the beautiful historic City Hall is not next on the hit list. Funds that have gone into clearly could have stabilized and improved the old girl. served to recall a past, while not always free of scandal, might serve to help us finally realize that it is time to see that Stockton’s historic core is an asset. Other lost dollars include dozens of Downtown revitalization studies and plans. Pick one and use it!

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